Naked airport scanners to be installed in 11 airports within two months
By Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press
OTTAWA - The government plans to install dozens of scanners that can see through the clothes of travellers in airports across the country.
Transport Minister John Baird will announce plans today to install the machines in 11 airports within two months.
An insider has told The Canadian Press that a total of about 45 scanners, which cost $200,000 apiece, will eventually be in place around Canada.
Initially the machines will turn up in cities including Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa and Vancouver, the source said on condition of anonymity.
The move follows an apparent attempt by a Nigerian man to blow up a jetliner over Michigan by igniting explosives sewn into his underwear.
The system, tested in British Columbia at the Kelowna airport, can enable a screening officer to see whether someone is carrying explosives or other dangerous items.
Last week officials said there were no plans to speed up consideration of the long-discussed scanners in light of the near-disaster.
But the government, under pressure to respond to the dramatic U.S. incident, has decided to make the multimillion-dollar purchase.
The proposal has stirred controversy because the scanner produces a three-dimensional outline of a person's naked body - prompting some to denounce the process as a virtual strip search.
The system received the blessing of the federal privacy czar in October.
Under the plan approved by the privacy chief, the officer would view the image in a separate room and never see the actual traveller.
Only people singled out for extra screening would be scanned, and they would have the option of getting a physical pat-down instead.
Chantal Bernier, the assistant federal privacy commissioner, told a conference the holographic image generated by the scanner makes it difficult to identify the traveller's face.
"You would not know who it is, even if you knew the person was in line," she said at the annual meeting of the Canadian Association for Security and Intelligence Studies.
In addition, the image would be deleted the moment the person leaves the screening portal.
"In our view, these privacy safeguards meet the test for the proper reconciliation of public safety and privacy," Bernier said.
The scanners are already in use at airports in cities including Amsterdam, Moscow and Phoenix. They are also found in the high-security "green zone" of Baghdad and at some U.S. courthouses and prisons.
Bernier added that the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority had done thorough threat assessments that revealed a need to search passengers for weapons that might elude a conventional metal detector.
The privacy commissioner's office recommends a public education campaign to explain the machines, and says minors would be scanned only with the consent of guardians accompanying them.
The air security authority says the low-level radio frequency wave emitted by the body scanner meets Canadian health-and-safety standards.
I'm not so concerned about the privacy issues as the cost. So this will tag an additional $10 million or so onto the Airport Fees, in addition to whatever fuel surcharges we will endure in 2010. So, when is even marginally acceptable train service going to provide us with a viable option to air travel? We're stuck over a barrel, again.